The Pooter: An Entomologist's Favorite Tool

Entomologists everywhere are pooting for science. That’s not a euphemism—they’re using the scientific tools known as “pooters,” and they’re pooting up a storm.

A pooter (named for its inventor, William Poos, for real) is also called an insect aspirator. It’s a low-tech device with a bug at one end, a scientist’s mouth at the other, and a tube or tubes in between. The bug collector aims one end of the tube at the bug and inhales sharply, trapping the minibeast in the tube.

Many entomologists make their own pooters, since they have the supplies on hand, but a basic pre-fab pooter from a lab-supply company only costs about $8. (Coincidentally, the hand-held analog fart-noise-maker calling itself “The Original Pooter” will run you $7.95, unless you want a two-pack.)

Pooters can take many forms. There’s the electric pooter, the surgical tube pooter, the vacuum pooter, and the classic pooter. There are suck-type pooters and blow-type pooters. All of these pooters ideally have one thing in common: a piece of mesh or muslin at the mouth end to prevent pooter users from swallowing their research subjects.

This works … most of the time.

“I am sure that most, if not all of us, have managed to end up with a mouthful of small insects,” entomologist Simon Leather, Ph.D., wrote on his blog. Pooters see a lot of use, he tells mental_floss, and can get worn out. “You tend to just get your pooter out and poot without checking to see if the muslin is still there,” he says. “Luckily, most of the things I poot up are small and harmless.”

Other pooting hazards include “pooter’s mouth”—dry mouth or allergies caused by a long day of inhaling dust and leaf litter—and aspirating insect eggs without realizing it.

In the 1950s, an entomologist named Paul D. Hurd reported a rather surprising souvenir from his latest collecting trip, which he discovered when when he looked in his handkerchief and saw not just boogers, but bugs:

Approximately 2 mo. after the completion of the past summer's work at Point Barrow I became ill. During the week following the onset of illness four major groups of insects … were passed alive from the left antrum of the sinus.

Because it’s cheap, portable, and precise, the pooter has become a favorite tool of entomologists and budding scientists around the world. There are several Australian “Make a Pooter!” lesson plans. One reminds the reader not to suck up stinging or poisonous insects. Another lesson plan suggests other fun activities like breeding mosquitoes, or making a pooter that can suck up tadpoles.

There are even pooting contests. Years before she discovered the peacock spiders known as Sparklemuffin and Skeletorus, researcher Madeline Girard took home first and second place in two consecutive Poot-Offs.

To the uninitiated, pooting may seem a little weird. But to the dedicated men and women of science who have made insects their living, it’s really a wonderful tool.

Dr. Leather keeps a pooter in his jacket pocket and a portable magnifying glass on a lanyard around his neck. “If you really want to understand the wonders of the world,” he says, “you’ve got to look at the small things.”

MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
Look Closely—Every Point of Light in This Image Is a Galaxy
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Even if you stare closely at this seemingly grainy image, you might not be able to tell there’s anything to it besides visual noise. But it's not static—it's a sliver of the distant universe, and every little pinprick of light is a galaxy.

As Gizmodo reports, the image was produced by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, a space-based infrared telescope that was launched into orbit in 2009 and was decommissioned in 2013. Created by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), it looks out from our galaxy toward the North Galactic Pole, a point that lies perpendicular to the Milky Way's spiral near the constellation Coma Berenices.

A close-up of a view of distant galaxies taken by the Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Each point of light comes from the heat of dust grains between different stars in a galaxy. These areas of dust gave off this radiation billions of years before reaching Herschel. Around 1000 of those pins of light belong to galaxies in the Coma Cluster (named for Coma Berenices), one of the densest clusters of galaxies in the known universe.

The longer you look at it, the smaller you’ll feel.

[h/t Gizmodo]


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